Even before a U.S. senator began probing the finances of bigtime televangelists, Dana Point's own Benny Hinn had undertaken "significant reforms" to his $98-million (or so)-a-year ministry:
The church no longer provides vehicles to Hinn and his family
Church credit cards once used by Hinn, his family and "related parties" have been cut up.
And the church is now more circumspect about, you know, buying airplanes.
"The Church had for years acquired aircraft by purchase or lease without entertaining a study regarding what method, and what craft, best suited the Church's needs," says an attorney for Hinn in a letter responding to the probe by Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, who wanted to know if these ministries improperly used their tax-exempt status to finance lavish lifestyles.
"After a review of that process, the Directors detemined that a third-party review of the Church's aircraft needs, and whether it should own or lease such craft, was prudent," the Hinn response says. "Therefore, the Church enacted a series of steps that provide for the use of a best-in-class review and recommendation process to determine the Church's specific craft needs, based on usage, travel schedule, destination locations chosen, and ownership and resale preferences."
Only two of the six televangelists targeted by Grassley actually responded completely to his questions, and Hinn was one of them. "The reforms undertaken by Pastor Hinn and Joyce Meyer are extensive and are to be commended," the newly-released Grassley report says. They both "engaged staff in constructive, open dialogue. Through our review of their responses as well as our conversations with their representatives, we learned that they each had separately undertaken significant reforms, some of which began before (Grassley's) inquiry."
The other televangelists targeted were Florida-based televangelist Paula White (with whom Hinn did not have an affair, the pair say), Creflo Dollar, Eddie Long and Kenneth Copeland.
Hinn crows about the praise on his web site. "We are encouraged with this outcome as it pertains to Benny Hinn Ministries and believe it will have a positive impact on our ministry," he says on the site. " We want to express our appreciation to Senator Grassley and his staff for the awareness this process has provided and for how the experience has caused us to renew our commitment to always honor our partners' sacrificial giving with the highest level of integrity and responsibility so that the name of the Lord Jesus may always be protected."
The Grassley probe was three years in the making, and some have expressed deep disappointment that it didn't hit televangelists harder, or make recommendations for concrete changes to tax laws or reporting requirements. And for all this transparency, we note that the financials Hinn provided Grassley were from 2006; there were apparently no updates; and current finances are not disclosed anywhere on Hinn's web site that we could find. There is a page titled "church finances" which includes a pretty pie chart of where money is going (59 percent media ministry, 29 percent international missions and crusades, etc.), but no actual dollar figures, and certainly no detail on who is being paid what.
What is he pulling in today, and what he's doing with it? Only Hinn knows for sure. In July Hinn asked his followers for $2 million; and his year-end not asks follwers to "plant a generous seed-gift today toward your breakthrough. I know that God has said that for those who will step out in faith that there will be no more losses—total recovery and total abundance! God will honor your faith."
Grassley's 61-page treatise touches on tax tussles ranging from the Church of Scientology's struggle for churchhoood to Saddleback Church Pastor Rick Warren's parsonage allowance, as well as the status of OC's own Trinity Broadcasting (which does, indeed, file public tax returns). The report traces the rather fascinating history of why churches are tax-exempt — and why they do not necessarily have to be. That's a game-changing (and, for churches, hair-raising) question that will hopefully be debated in Washington D.C. in coming years. We'll bring you more on that in coming days.
Here's the skinny on what Grassley found:
- Joyce Meyer Ministries (JMM), which posts its annual reports on its website, reports 2008 revenues of $112 million (including $93.3 million in contributions), and total assets on December 31, 2008, of $79.7 million.
- The 2006 audited financial statements of Without Walls International Church show revenue for calendar year 2006 of $39.9 million, and total assets on December 31, 2006, of $39.3 million.
- The audited financial statements of Benny Hinn Ministries for 2006, which were provided to the Finance Committee but are not posted on the Ministries‘ web site, show total revenue and support of $97.93 million.
- A story written for CBS News reports Kenneth Copeland as saying that his ministry ? takes in about $100 million a year in revenue.
Not even a Senator's probe could shake the info out of the others.
There are billions of dollars flowing into churches every year, and it's hard to say how the money is being spent. Is it time for a change? We'll get to that soon.